Is SLO County’s coroner incompetent?

Gary Walter

San Luis Obispo County’s medical examiner is again under scrutiny for a cause of death determination, this time over the death of a young woman he reported died of an LSD overdose. [CalCoastNews]

For the past few years, Walter has been under fire for issues related to his work in the county. In March, Dr. Gary Alan Walter crashed his car on the way to perform an autopsy. He was later arrested for driving under the influence with a .19 blood alcohol.

Earlier this year, Walter ruled that the jail death of Andrew Holland was natural, even though deputies strapped him in a restraint chair for 36 hours before he died.

Following Walter’s DUI arrest, the state has been seeking to revoke Walter’s medical license. In addition, Walter is named in a wrongful death lawsuit over a man who died in Lemoore police custody.

The Tribune is now reporting that a pair of experts in the fields of pharmacology and psychiatry are disputing Walter’s findings in the case of the alleged LSD overdose.

On May 28, Baylee Ybarra Gatlin was transported from a music festival at Lake San Antonio to Twin Cities Community Hospital, where she died shortly later. Walter performed an autopsy and ruled that Gatlin’s cause of death was LSD toxicity.

Dr. David E. Nichols and Dr. Charles Grob both said they are not aware of any cases of LSD medically causing deaths, though individuals under the influence of the drug have died in accidents or suicides.

Several substances other than LSD are more likely to have caused Gatlin’s death, and Walter’s team failed to identify them, Nichols and Grob determined.

A toxicology report revealed a low level of LSD and no other illegal drugs in Gatlin’s system. Two blood samples showed .22 nanograms per milliliter and .47 nanograms per milliliter of LSD in her system.

Nichols and Grob said those amounts do not constitute an overdose nor a toxic amount of LSD.

The county replied by saying Gatlin had a much higher level of LSD in her blood during the 12 hours before her death. Sheriff’s spokesman Tony Cipolla said his agency stands by Walter, and his conclusion.

Previously, the sheriff’s office said it is planning on replacing Walter with a new medical examiner. Walter’s contract with SLO County expired at the end of June, and he has since remained on the job on a month-to-month basis.